On Hiatus

I hate it when I follow a blog and the author stops writing posts for no apparent reason. But this year I’ve been infrequent in my posts, and realize I run the risk of others wondering what’s going on.

So, this is a note to say I’m putting this blog on hold for a bit – mostly, because I have nothing of consequence to share about my model railway.

When I have something more to say, I’ll start posting again. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the return of this blog, I have described a couple of ways to follow along which will notify you whenever I make a new post.

Happy modelling, everyone!

A pair of Seltzers

Well, I’m honoured!

Seltzers x2

Yesterday’s post included a pleasant gift. This website won the 2018 Josh Seltzer Award from the National Association of S Gaugers. Thank you to everyone who made this possible!

As the photo above shows, my blog also won in 2016. Not to make light of these awards, but if I win every other year I’m going to quickly run out of wall space. So here’s the challenge:

If you’re modelling in S scale, and you haven’t already done so… start a blog.

Share your progress on models. Give us a tour of your layout. Share your thoughts on the state of the hobby in general, and of S scale in particular. (If you need some ideas about how to start, check out my post, “Why you should consider blogging“.)

Let others know you’re doing this so they can follow along – by cross-posting to the S Scale newsgroups, S Scale SIG, S Scale groups on social media, etc.

And perhaps in a couple of years, you will be looking for a spot to hang your Josh Seltzer Award!

(Thank you, again, to the members of the NASG for these awards. They’re wonderful!)

Shooting a cover

The editor of a hobby magazine emailed yesterday to ask for a vertical-format photo to use as a potential cover for a feature I wrote. I spent the next several hours composing and shooting 13 potential covers.

Shooting a cover.
(Lights, camera, cover? We’ll see if this composition makes the cut…)

I’m pretty excited: If my photo is used, it’ll be the first cover story related to my current layout in a mainstream monthly print publication. (My previous, Maine On2 layout made the cover of RMC several times.)

Cover shots are tricky. First, the vertical format is really challenging for almost all layout photography. We normally view our models (and our layouts) from the side. But the vertical format for a cover means it makes more sense to shoot along the layout instead of across it.

As anyone who has done layout tour photography will know, that creates all sorts of challenges. For example, Even if you’re just focussing on a couple of models in the foreground – just a few feet in front of the camera – you may have an expanse of sky that’s going to need lighting. In the case of the above photo, I had to light up about 15 feet of backdrop in Port Rowan, plus the background at the west end of St. Williams – about 25 feet away from the lens.

Another issue is the nature of trains themselves. Our model trains are low (extending just a few inches above the rails) but long (running for several feet). So shooting a train side-on is impossible when taking a vertical format photograph. Even shooting even a single piece of equipment side-on is tricky. For a vertical photo, even if the model fills the frame side-to-side, there’s going to be a ton of boring sky above it.

This is another reason to build realistically tall trees. They help add interest to the photo. It helps, too, that on a cover, much of the top of any photo will be covered by the magazine’s name/logo. There will also be several call-outs on the cover – “Gluing things to other things: Page 48” and so on – that help hide less desirable elements in the background of a photo. In my case, I have a sharp vertical line where the backdrop curves away from Port Rowan to enter the Lynn Valley, but cloning some trees in PhotoShop, combined with the logo and call-outs, will make that disappear from the viewer’s perception.

The logo, the call-outs, and other items like the location of mailing labels and UPC codes are all things one needs to think about while composing a cover. And that’s before any considerations about scene composition and engagement with the casual viewer. A cover needs to grab attention on the rack – whether it’s in a hobby-friendly location like the local model train emporium, or in an agnostic location like a book shop or grocery store, where it’s competing not only with other model railroading publications, but also all those other magazines vying for our money.

I know my layout photographs well, because I’ve found many interesting places to shoot images on it (which I’ve shared on this blog). But I’ve rarely done vertical format photos and I was surprised at how difficult it was to find an interesting location to shoot when the camera was rotated 90 degrees.

We’ll see how well I did if/when my shot is used on the cover.

Beyond that, I will wait until the article comes out before I reveal what it’s about and what magazine it’s in. At that time, I’ll also share some of the rejected cover shots.

Stay tuned…

Tips for blogging about our hobby

Blog vs barking.

On Saturday night, I was honoured to be the guest speaker at the banquet for Algonquin Turn 2016, the annual convention for members of the Niagara Frontier Region of the NMRA.

I’ve shared more on that in another post, but one thing I spoke about was how, for me, this blog has become a powerful modelling tool.

Despite the sentiment in the cartoon at the top of this post, I consider this blog to be as important to my Port Rowan layout as the ties and rail and I will continue to “bark” on it. Here’s why:

I started my blog in August, 2011. I had never before blogged and I had no idea what to expect. As of right now…

– I have made 1,126 posts (including this one).

– The blog has generated 5,856 comments. Of those, 1,950 are mine as I respond to the 3,906 comments from my readers (and thanks for those!)

– The blog has generated more than 505,000 page views. (It’s actually a bit more than that, because I did not track stats for the first year of blogging. I simply didn’t know I could.)

In addition to making new friends online, the value of this blog has been in its ability to generate information that helps me become a better railway modeller. For example:

– Readers have offered information about the prototype (CNR Simcoe Sub) and the area (St. Williams and Port Rowan) that I model.

– Readers have shared information about traffic sources and commodities to enhance the freight, LCL and express operations on my layout.

– Those readers who are also professional railroaders have shared information about prototype practices that have improved my operating sessions.

– Readers who know more about S scale (because I’m still relatively new to working in 1:64) have given me leads everything from small detail parts to locomotives, and from manufacturers to suppliers (whether they are distributors, retailers or individuals).

Interestingly, in a number of cases, information came my way that I did not even know I “needed”. For example, I’ve had many people become readers who are not railway modellers: They’re historians, or residents of one of the communities I model, or have another interest that overlaps something I’m doing on the layout, such as installing the working telegraphy system.

In the past, I might have had to do extensive research, including trips to archives, to find much of this information. Today, thanks to this blog, much of it has come my way – simply because I shared.

Finally, another important role for this blog is to remind me how I did something. For example, I often return to the blog to look up detail parts I used on a specific type of freight car so I can order more for another model.

In my talk on Saturday night, I encouraged everyone in the room to start a blog – and offered some tips, based on my experience, for getting started. For those who are interested, here are my thoughts on blogging in no particular order:

– Make regular postings: I suggest one per week on average (and I know that I’ve been remiss at that since the home renovation and Roy the Puppy (see below) took over my life, but I hope to rectify that going forward). They don’t have to be “War and Peace” – they can be as brief as a photo and a caption. But to generate the traffic that will start paying off in terms of information gathering, regular postings are a must.

– Write about what you’ve done – not what about your thinking of doing. Unless, of course, you want every expert on the Internet to tell you what to do.

– Give newcomers a place to find their feet. Remember that readers may land on your blog at any post – rarely the first one. On this blog, I’ve included a “First Time Here?” page, into which I’ve gathered some basic information and links to key posts that describe what I’m doing in more detail. I’ve also included lots of photos of the layout on this page, so that people can see what I’m doing and assess whether they want to read more. (Not everybody will, and that’s cool!)

– I’ve also included an “About the Author” page, so people can find out who I am. It’s always more comfortable to have a conversation with somebody if you know who they are, I find. I’ve also included information about how to contact me on this page.

– Make it easy for interested readers to follow you. This blog includes the “Follow this Blog” page to describe the options. And I post the occasional reminder to my blog that new readers should check it out. (This post counts, so if you’re new to my blog – Welcome! Please have a look at how you can follow along.)

– Back up your blog. I didn’t, at first – I didn’t know I could. And then I lost the entire thing. Fortunately, a reader was able to access the XML file (the programming language that creates the blog) for my posts on his own computer and share it with me, so I was able to re-post all of the posts. But I lost many of the early comments. Blogs reside online, and the engine that drive them – such as WordPress – have an export tool that allows you save your blog to your local computer drive. Use it.

– A promising blog that hasn’t been updated in months is a sad thing to find on the Internet. I sometimes wonder if the blogger has unexpectedly passed away. So if you started a blog that you don’t intend to maintain and you read this, do your readers a favour and write a final post saying that you’ve decided to no longer maintain the blog because you’re doing other things. (The reasons are none of our businesses, but we like to know that you’re still alive.)

If you have not yet started a blog, I hope that this post will encourage you to consider doing so. I use WordPress and recommend it – I like the user interface and I think the resulting blogs look elegant. But there are other engines – such as Blogger – that may suit you better. I encourage you to look at each and then if you’re interested, register a name (it’s free to do so) and start sharing!

Since I started this post with a dog cartoon, I thought I’d bookend it with a dog photo. Here’s one of Roy, taken this morning:

Roy 2016-V-09

Enforced idleness

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I wish it involved a beach, but no…

This weekend, I’m clearing my home office so the floors can be refinished and walls painted. I should be out of the office for a week – maybe more, as there’s a fair bit of prep to do, too.

As a consequence, my computer and home Internet access will also be out of commission, so I’ll be on a vacation of sorts.

While I will still read any comments that come into the blog via my smart phone – and may be able to provide short answers through same – I won’t be making new posts until my office has been restored and I may not be responding to all comments (because I’m not a fan of one-finger typing).

Have a good one, everyone – see you later!

1066 and all that

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Four years ago today, I started writing this blog. Frankly, I can’t remember why I decided to do share the design and construction of my layout with the world – but it doesn’t really matter.

I’m glad I did.

If one were to draw a plan of my layout today, it would look very similar to the plan I drew in 2011. But the layout has evolved considerably over the past four years in ways that aren’t apparent when looking at lines on a page or a screen.

That it has is the direct result of the questions, observations and information that you – the readers – have contributed to this blog. Sometimes, questions have prompted me to analyze and then better articulate the thinking behind a decision. Other times, these discussions have brought new information to light which has changed my thinking. Thank you for that.

With this post, I’ve written 1066 (and all that?*) pieces for this blog. I look forward to sharing more in Year Five.

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(*While I’m not sure they include 5 Bad Kings, I hope they include 103 Good Things and a couple of Genuine Dates.)

It’s going to be a quiet summer

Not completely quiet, but not like my usual rate of posting.

 photo Packing-For-Reno_zpsj9f7m0zv.jpg
(Destination: Workroom – a new one – next to the layout room. But it’s going to be a while before these get unpacked…)

My wife and I live in a 125+ year old example of the city’s traditional “bay and gable” home. And this summer, we’re doing a major renovation on it. We’ll be clearing one floor at a time for our architect/contractor and his crew, so floors that aren’t completely empty and under demolition/renovation will be packed to the ceilings with furniture and boxes.

It’s like moving, but without the moving truck.

I expect to get very little model-building or layout-building done this summer. In fact, even the operator’s aisle in the layout room may become temporary storage.

I don’t expect to hold operating sessions. But we’ll see how it goes.

I do hope to keep a couple of small projects out and within easy reach so I have something to work on. And of course I’ll post about those if I make any progress on them. But – as noted earlier – we’ll see how it goes.

I expect regular postings to resume when the plaster dust has settled.

Spam, two ways

A couple of tech notes about this blog…

A crazy amount of Spam photo WallOfSpam.jpg

1 – I use a spam filtering service called Akismet. It’s not resident on my blog’s server and it appears the blog server and the Akismet server are not talking to each other – haven’t been for a week or so. I have my ISP looking into this – but I mention it here because it means that all comments are being automatically held for moderation – even those from readers who have had previous comments approved by me. Since I get a crazy amount of spam attempts on this blog, and since I don’t always sign into my computer (which is a better device than a smart phone for managing this type of problem), it could take a few days for your comments to clear. I do try to look for new comments whenever I publish a new post, so those comments shouldn’t get held in moderator jail for as long…

2 – I recently had a reader contact me to ask whether he could link to this blog on his own blog. The answer is an enthusiastic “Yes, of course”. But I can’t get in touch with the reader to tell him that, because he uses Comcast as his ISP. Comcast has some of the strictest Spam blocking I’ve ever run into, and doesn’t like my ISP for some reason (possibly, because I’m in another country).

The perils of the Internet: It could vacuum up all of one’s modelling time!

Waiting for something to blog

Marty McGuirk has started a terrific thread on his Central Vermont Railway blog about … blogging. Here’s the link:

Prototype Modeling and the blogosphere(??)

Rather than duplicate Marty’s effort here, I encourage you to swing over to his home on the web and check out the comments on his post. Then add your own – over there.

Meantime, in the process of supplying my own answers to Marty, I found some terrific commentary on blogging online…

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 photo Blog-Breakdown_zpszplej2wl.jpg

 photo Blog-Window_zps4zv144ka.jpg

 photo Internet-Following_zpsiy6pwxqo.jpg

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We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

New look for Lance’s website

This is good news…

Like many of my readers, I’m a big fan of the work that Lance Mindheim has been doing to encourage hobbyists to build what I call “achievable layouts“. I’ve always been frustrated, though, that Lance’s website and it’s always thought-provoking blog 1) was not searchable and 2) did not support RSS or other means of automatically notifying me when he’d posted a new entry.

Apparently, I’m not alone: As Lance notes in a post from last week, he’s in the process of addressing these by migrating this website engine over to something that includes a WordPress blog (the same blogging engine I use here).

The RSS feed does not yet appear to be active. But I will post an update as part of this post when it is. (And here’s an update: I plugged the URL for the blog page into my RSS reader and it worked.)

I know Lance will be pleased by the change, particularly the ability for readers to follow his blog. I have two following options on this blog and I’m flattered by the number of people who use it to keep tabs on what I’m doing.